The Freedom of Inconvenience

There is something wonderfully simple yet gloriously complex about the process of watching the tree bud out in the springtime, watching the flowers shed their petals and be replaced by infant fruit, then watching the fruit mature, and ripen, then picking that fruit at the right time and processing it, canning it as various delectable spreads or syrups or sauces, stacking the jars neatly in the pantry to be used at a future date…the process is immensely satisfying. I love the thought that must go into identifying the fruit, identifying its readiness to be harvested, sorting it, juicing it, and canning it. The thought and learned skill that goes into the entire process, whether it be the observation and waiting, or the careful, gentle work, the meticulousness, the specificity – they all contribute to the satisfaction I get when looking at a row of jars of jewel-bright jelly.
IMG_3912And yet the whole process is terribly inconvenient, to our modern way of thinking. I was in the middle of making a batch of spicy wild plum sauce, and Sarah commented facetiously on “how much money we’d save” on spicy plum sauce, by having canned it ourselves. “Wait…we don’t buy spicy plum sauce.” And she is right. We don’t. I’ve never tasted spicy plum sauce, I’ve never used it, and I didn’t even know it was a thing until I found the recipe and decided to use some of my wild plums to make it. Why bother, honestly?

As I have been canning over the past few weeks, it has occurred to me how much time actually goes into very little of a finished product. The time it takes to pick fruit and properly process it means a lot of time goes into each finished jar. It would be so much faster just to buy it at the store.

But there is no satisfaction when admiring a jar of store-bought jelly, or a factory-sewn skirt, or thawing out a frozen meal. The satisfaction comes from having a task, completing the task, and knowing it was completed well. There is something deeply fulfilling about being capable of taking a task from start to finish, whether in the process of foraging and food preservation, or in the art and science of reading a sewing pattern and ending up with a beautiful handmade garment or other item. There is something joyous about starting with an empty stockpot, and serving up something delicious from scratch. There is something invigorating about taking a cluttered house and turning it into a haven, or taking a pile of laundry and seeing it flutter clean and fresh in the sunlit breeze.

My 40-minute commute to work could be seen as an inconvenience or as an opportunity to pray, listen to music, or just to ponder life. Our 45-minute drive to church is time to visit with family. The time it takes to do dishes by hand is time my sisters and I like to spend listening to podcasts or laughing with one another. When I have a task like canning that requires hours of my time, it is freeing and invigorating to be forced to slow down for the time it takes to accomplish that task and focus on one single thing, rather than the million “important things” that crowd into my mind. It is freeing to have to stand outside in the sun and fresh air while hanging a load of clean, wet laundry on the clothesline. It is freeing to be carefully chopping vegetables for a fresh soup. It is freeing to kneel over a length of fabric, pins in hand, or feed the fabric carefully through a sewing machine.

The inconvenience is freedom to me.

 

 

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Goodbye, Luna

It always hurts to lose something you love, or someone, even if that someone is “just” a cat. I think we will all shed tears over this little critter, publicly or privately, and each miss him in our own way. He was Anna’s special cat, but all of us loved him. Even Dad, who always puts on a pretense of thinking that the critters are “just” critters and relatively useless ones at that, will miss Luna. Luna seemed like he was doing better day-before-yesterday, and seemed to be responding to our attempts to nurse him back to health, but he took a turn for the worse yesterday morning and fell asleep for good sometime this morning. We’ll miss his quirks and his cuddles.We had Luna for 2 years, and his personality has always amused and delighted and befuddled us. His looks were like a scientific illustration of a cat – he was perfect, with a long, thick tail, a perfectly proportioned body, and beautiful pale eyes. But aside from his looks, nothing else was dignified about him. He’s the cat who, even when quite full-grown, would curl himself up ridiculously to “nurse” on his own belly fur, a habit that he caught on to doing when his sister, Koshka, apparently missing their mother, started sucking on his belly when they were just 2-month-old kittens. Koshka eventually grew out of the habit, but not Luna. He’s the one who fell in love with Jess’s dog who was here for the first 9 months that we lived in the Hills.  The two of them would love on each other, with Luna allowing Baby to groom him from head to tail. He’s the one we babied when he managed to get part of his tail degloved this winter when he got his tail closed in the front door, and he put up with our clumsy doctoring and his poor cone very patiently and sweetly. He was a forgiving cat.  He’s the one who would taunt the dogs, then turn on them, claws unsheathed, and send the dogs scattering hilariously. Luna always strutted around like he was some hotshot, and then would go do something stupid. It is kind of hard to believe that crazy, beautiful cat is gone.
IMG_9040We all loved him.

 

Recipes | Wild Plum Jam

The wild plums are sure bountiful this year! I don’t know what they were like last year, but this year has been amazing. I went picking again this morning with a friend, and we picked about 6 gallons of plums! I couldn’t believe it. When we drove up to the (secret) plum thicket, my heart sank a little, since the branches seemed awfully bare. But we climbed down into the thicket and the ground was covered with beautiful, firm, ripe fruit. Most of what we picked we actually picked off the ground. The plums that were still on the tree were barely attached and just fell off into our hands, or fell to the ground as we shook the branches.IMG_4288eYesterday, I finished processing my first batch of plums as plum jam, and it did not disappoint. Here is the recipe, the process adapted from a recipe on Kitchn and a Sure-Jell recipe.IMG_4270eIngredients

  • ~1 gallon of plums
  • 1 box powdered pectin
  • 8 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. butter (optional)

Process

Wash plums and cut off bad spots. In a stockpot with about a half a cup of water, cook the plums with pits, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes, mashing the fruit as you go. A potato masher can also be used to help loosen the pits. When the plums have reached a sauce-like consistency, remove from the heat and pull out the pits, leaving as many of the skins as possible. Use an immersion blender to blend the pulp and chop up the skins. Measure out 6 cups of pulp. There will be extra. In a stockpot, combine the plum pulp and the powdered pectin. Add butter if desired to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Mixture should continue to boil even while you are stirring. Add the sugar. Return to a boil, and cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a minute or two. Skim off any foam that forms, and save for a taster.

Pour into prepared jars, clean the rims and threads, and seal jars with two-piece canning lids. Process 10 minutes in hot water bath (I adjusted for altitude and processed for 15 minutes).IMG_4272Notes

Jam differs from jelly in that jelly uses only the juice, while jam uses all of the usable fruit, including the skin. Plums can be pitted before or after cooking. Either way is bound to be tedious. I left the pits in and after an hour of pulling the pits out, I was almost in tears. Part of that may have had to do with the fact that I didn’t start processing them until 11:00 pm, so it was 1:00 am and I was still pulling pits out. So it was bad timing. If I make jam again, I don’t know if I will leave the pits in and cook them, or pit them ahead of time. I may try to use a ricer, which would unfortunately pull the skins out, but would at least make it easier to separate the pits and the pulp. It would be worth a try. IMG_4281eI had never made plum jam before, and I don’t know if I have ever even eaten plum jam before. But it is exquisite on bread with a generous quantity of butter. Enjoy!

 

Luna

Anna’s poor Luna-cat is sick. He is the big, beautiful boy who lost part of his tail this winter and who always seems to be getting into scrapes. A few days ago, he started acting funny, but given that he is kind of a weird cat already, he didn’t seem much weirder than usual. But it became clear he was not just weird but sick, so Anna and Mom took him to the vet yesterday, and it turns out he has kidney stones, which for a cat can be a pretty big deal.
IMG_1754I don’t know what you think about praying for critters, but I believe that the God who created animals does care about those same critters. If not even a sparrow can fall to the ground outside the will of the Father, then I also know that poor Luna is seen by God, and that God cares. So when our critters are sick, they are in my prayers. But more than that, if you pray to Jesus, send up a little prayer for Anna, since Luna is her particular favorite and I know she’ll be really sad if she has to put him down. Unfortunately, veterinary costs of hundreds of dollars for a cat are just plain not something we can do (maybe…won’t do? They’re animals, not people. Great, now PETA will come and arrest me and PETA’s minions will excoriate me for being cruel and inhumane). If Luna doesn’t start showing some improvement in the next few days, Anna might have an unpleasant choice to make. The poor cat obviously doesn’t feel good, but he isn’t suffering right now, so we’ll see how he does over the next few days.

Pets are one of those multifaceted gifts that God gives, that kind of leave me bewildered. They bring such joy (and sadness at times), and there really is no explaining it. When I see the uniqueness of each of our critters, or cuddle a purring cat, or feel Ember pouncing my feet the nights I let her sleep inside (that’s supposed to be a secret, by the way), I wonder at God’s goodness and winsomeness in providing these not-so-simple joys. What is simple about the exquisite beauty of God’s handiwork? The God who created the planets and the universe also created the cat’s purr and the dog’s loyalty. What a great God. He didn’t need to do any of that. But He did.

Well, we’ve gotten pretty good at cat-doctoring, particularly with Luna degloving his tail back in December, so I’m hoping our doctoring will set him right. We’ll see, I guess.

Recipes | Crabapple Syrup

Finally! Fruit processing season has been here for a few weeks now, and I am thrilled to report a few new recipes that have been added to my recipe collection. This recipe for crabapple syrup is adapted from one I found on the Backyard Forager website – here is the original article and recipe. I have my own method of juice extraction, but I needed the sugar-to-juice ratio and the cooking and processing time. It is a wonderfully tangy syrup, and I look forward to using it on or in a number of things – yogurt, pancakes, icecream or sorbet, lemonade or iced tea…The list could be endless.

Ingredients

10 c. crabapple juice

10 c. sugar

1.5 T pectinIMG_3892Method – Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Heat the mixture to boiling and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Skim foam off the top and save the skimmings for a taster. Pour syrup into sterile jars. Clean rims and threads, and seal with two-piece canning lids. Processes for 1o minutes in a boiling water bath, or adjust for altitude. I processed the jars for 15 minutes, since we are at ~3600 feet above sea level. Yields about 7 pint jars.IMG_3906Notes – I added the pectin in the hopes of thickening the syrup a little. The original recipe doesn’t include any pectin. The chokecherry syrup I made last year was very runny, even though it included pectin, and I liked the consistency even though other family members didn’t. Crabapples have a fair amount of natural pectin, so I was hesitant to add too much pectin and end up with jelly rather than syrup! However, the 1.5 tablespoons didn’t really do anything. After thinking about it, I realized it was kind of a joke that I even thought that little pectin would do anything at all to that quantity of juice and sugar, but math and ratios (yes, simple math, I know) are not my strong suit. They aren’t even my weak suit. They just aren’t. Period. I also added a splash of lemon juice, and could have added more (go back to math not being my strong suit). As far as the headspace, I left about a half inch of headspace, which might be a little much, but I don’t think it will matter. I probably could have gone with 1/4 inch.

There is something exceedingly satisfactory about the process of home canning. I’m so glad it is that time of year!

 

Dirty Dog

Literally. Opal took herself on an adventure a few days ago, and showed back up 20 minutes later looking like this:

What can you do? Sarah wasn’t here, and I didn’t feel like trying to give Opal a bath without help (she’s not my dog, so why would I try, right?), so I just let her dry into a muddy fuzzball. She didn’t seem to care, so I didn’t either. Oh, the fun of mud in the bottom of the stock dam…